True stories from the world of jazz, 2012.

One.  I am at a place where jazz was about to be played, and a very good-natured man perhaps twenty years younger than myself, turns to me in conversation and asks, “Do they [the band] play only covers or do they play original material?”

He says it in such a sweetly inquisitive way — clearly a real question coming from someone (I assume) deeply versed in the conventions of popular music, that I explain that the split between COVERS (i.e., your band imitates Billy Joel performing X or Bob Dylan performing Y) and ORIGINAL MATERIAL (you write the music and lyrics yourself: the subject being your last breakup, the state of the world, or your childhood) does not exist in the same fashion in jazz.

I think he understands, and I do my best to be gently enthusiastic, neither didactic or condescending.  And when he leaves the room, about an hour later, he has had a very good time.  The music has won him over; he is now convinced that those categories — any categories, in fact — are not as fulfilling as the sound and energy he has been part of.

Two.  I am at a place where jazz is being played, and a woman perhaps twenty years older than myself turns to her companion after four songs have been announced by the leader and performed by the band — one of the songs was SWEET SUE, so you know we are not deep in musical esoterica.

In a middle-register wail of puzzlement and frustration, she says, “I don’t know ONE SONG!”  (I think in this context that “know” stands for “recognize.”)  Her companion, soothingly, in the voice one uses to a fretful child, says, “That’s because they’re all jazz tunes.”

Three.  David Weiner sends along this Facebook link to a blogpost and documentary about the peerless 78 RPM record collector Joe Bussard, who has some fifteen thousand of the shiny flat artifacts.

Commendable, no?

But Bussard says plainly that the last jazz record was made in 1932 (by Clarence Williams, by the way), and that anything else was a mere sham.  See for yourself here.

I am not going to mock these three people, although I am at a great distance from their perceptions.

But I hold out much more hope for the young man of One, who didn’t know but was willing to learn and enjoyed the music.

And the older woman of Two, perplexed by it all, stayed for the whole performance.

Mr. Bussard, to most people, is an authority on the music, on recordings.  His collection, lovingly obtained, catalogued, and preserved, is a treasure-house of sacred sounds.  But I wonder if his mind is much more closed to possibility than the first two people I have described — whose misconceptions were innocent and could be expanded through gentle discussion.

At least One and Two were seen out in the real world, listening to actual musicians, rather than seated at their shelves, admiring row upon row of neatly vertical Brunswicks and Vocalions.

The moral?  Must there be one?  I don’t think so.

May your happiness increase.


  1. The article about Joe Bussard is the result of an interview where Joe answered questions posed by the interviewer(s). Of course, Joe is expressing his opinion in some of his answers. Do you expect Joe to qualify each of his answers with “in my opinion”? I do not. I read Joe’s responses and I figure out that some of what he says is factual information “I got all types of music: everything from string bands and southern artists to Country blues and early jazz. Gospel and Bluegrass.” and some is opinion “the best stuff is from 1929 to 1933, especially 1931, 1932, 1933.” “Jazz music ended in 1933.” Of course, his opinion. Is there any doubt? In fact, in other parts of the interview he specifies that what he says is his personal taste, his opinion. Look at these Q & A.

    Q: A lot of people would claim the complete opposite. that Rock-n-Roll re invented and recharged music. What is it about rock-n-roll that annoys you so much?
    A: Don’t like. Just my personal taste. Don’t like the sound of it, the meaning of it…doesn’t promote anything beautiful or meaningful. Idiotic noise, in my opinion.

    Q: So artist like Miles Davis, John Coltrane don’t deserve your time?
    A: Oh my god, you gotta be kidding me. None of that music moves me.

    Nothing wrong with strong opinions, likes and dislikes.

    Finally, I am somewhat taken aback by your criticism of Joe’s opinions and taste. You write, “But I wonder if his mind is much more closed to possibility than the first two people I have described — whose misconceptions were innocent and could be expanded through gentle discussion.” You are implying (almost asserting, although you use the word “wonder”) that Joe has a closed mind and that his opinion that jazz ended in 1933 is a misconception. Certainly, not. He just does not like jazz after 1933. So why is that a misconception?

  2. I think my beloved Father’s musical world stopped in 1937. Problem is, at some level, the rest of life did as well. Sad

  3. I think every musician has had similar experiences. I recall when I had my band Wholly Cats, in the 1980s, a person inquired if we did “original material.” My response at the time, which would likely to be the same today, is “if I could write something on a level with George Gershwin, Cole Porter, or Walter Donaldson – then we would play originals.”

    When I was working in New Orleans, a customer who had listened to the band for a whole set came up and said “I’ve been listening to Dixieland all of my life, and I didn’t recognize any of those songs.” He then walked away, not waiting for a response. But it’s a common misconception, that jazz is a “song” rather than the way of playing a song.

  4. Dan Morgenstern

    You did just right by 1, for whom there surely is hope. As for 2, she’s probably tone deaf, but there was a famous jazz critic (great stylist) who never could remember what many tunes were called (and not only Monk tunes, which are often hard to recall by name). And probably the tunes 2
    would be expected to have known were played too fast (Sweet Sue was a
    ballad at birth). As for that great 78 collector, Brian Rust initially wanted to
    (and did, first edition) terminate his Jazz Discography with 1931 (though
    Clarence W. was not his favorite brand of tea). Collectors of the old school
    whose musical horizons were (are) exceedingly limited were (are) not uncommon. One of the best things that ever happened to me was that I
    became a working jazz journalist, assigned to cover all kinds of music. If I had remained what I started as in jazz, a record collector, I might well have
    missed out on some great sounds!

  5. craig ventresco

    Jazz is still being played…Bussard is no musicologist…and I want rows and rows of Paramounts and Vocalions.

  6. geoffrey Wheeler

    I’m surprised Joe made it to 1932!

  7. I’ll offer a moral:

    it’s preferable to be naive, inquisitive and open;
    knowledgeable, crotchety, jaded and close-minded

    I believe ee cummings wrote that somewhere.

  8. I’d love to discuss/cuss this topic into the wee hours with you! I think Bussard is right to the extent that the first epoch of jazz did end somewhere’s about that time. I first got into this music by collecting and listening to 78’s with my friends- our tastes pretty much instinctively kept us in the Busssard time frame (excepting Fats Waller). Rather than another cover of Sweet Sue, it would be great to hear new, experimental jazz tunes in the”traditional” style, think Fud Livingston crossed with Monk, etc. and build off that.

  9. Bobby Hacksaw

    Dear Michael,
    your only error is that you assume that 78 collectors are rational human beings! You of all people should know better.

    The greatest thing about the ‘jazz is dead’ folks is that they seldom show up where jazz is played. The rest of us will enjoy ourselves as best we can…

  10. I had a leader gig at one of the major jazz rooms in NYC, and the gal that booked the room called me back after hiring me and asked if we were going to play original music or covers, because they only wanted groups that played originals there. I told her everything we played was original, and proceeded to play songs like “My Gal Sal” and “I’m Crazy “Bout My Baby.” I don’t feel that I lied, and she was happy with our performance, and, as I suspected, she’d never heard any of the songs we played before.

  11. “I like what I like” can be a tremendously helpful disclaimer for others, but a very unproductive self-motivator.

  12. I read the Bussard interview, and what I found interesting is he seems to correlate the music with the sound on the records or recording studio. So to his ears, it’s not necessarily the music post-1932 he finds unappealing, but the actual sound of recordings.

    What is very amusing about the interview is that Bussard corrects the interviewer that “records” are not “albums,” yet the guy continues to refer to his records as “albums.”

  13. Thanks for this thought-and-discourse-providing triptych of tales. This is a useful example of how meaningful commentary about music (and thus internet content) can be produced through non-music language.

  14. I’m cool with the novice Jazz listeners. There is much they do not know and i never have a problem explaining stuff to newbies.

    “The last Jazz record” – I don’t want to read the writer’s thoughts, but depending how tightly you define the word “Jazz”, he could have a case as could anyone with thiose or other standards for what is Jazz.

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